I’m not sure why I’m drawn to Chinese poetry, I’m not a poet, don’t have a degree in English nor am I even a student of the arts other than appreciation. Chinese poetry, however, I not only enjoy, but can easily visualize, internalize, and don’t try to analyze. The ancient Chinese poets speak in a way that my heart understands — usually. The following poem, for example, was written by Hsieh (pronounced “shay”) Ling-yün who lived from 385-433 (that’s a long time ago!) but is easy for my 21st century, semi-urban, wilderness-loving self to recognize.
Hsieh was a devout Buddhist, an official (the Duke of Kangle), and a nature poet. Although he was dismissed, exiled and went to the mountains to live and write, he was civically defiant, and eventually executed. Would “civic defiance” be considered activism today? His love and peace in nature and civic defiance are two seemingly incongruous character attributes but who can explain human complexity? We all have elements of self that skirmish within us.
I selected this particular poem because I recognize myself doing some of what he describes: the desire to inhabit the mountains, planting the garden and watching it grow and replenish itself, gazing outward yet turning back to the past, the need to share with kindred spirits. Basically, after everything we do for ourselves, we still need others around us. Enjoy.
I’ve Put in Gardens South of the Fields, Opened Up a Stream and Planted Trees
Woodcutter and recluse– they inhabit
these mountains for different reasons,
and there are other forms of difference.
You can heal here among these gardens,
sheltered from rank vapors of turmoil,
wilderness clarity calling distant winds.
I ch’i-sited my house on a northern hill,
doors opening out onto a southern river,
ended trips to the well with a new stream
and planted hibiscus in terraced banks.
Now there are flocks of trees at my door
and crowds of mountains at my window,
and I wander thin trails down to fields
or gaze into a distance of towering peaks,
wanting little, never wearing myself out.
It’s rare luck to make yourself such a life,
though like ancient recluse paths, mine
bring longing for the footsteps of friends:
how could I forget them in this exquisite
adoration kindred spirits alone can share?